November 3, 2008

Red Struggles in Red Zone, Efficient Tigers Succeed

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Senior co-captain quarterback Nathan Ford had no problems mobilizing the Red’s powerful passing attack, accumulating 431 yards in the Red’s 31-26 loss to Princeton Saturday afternoon. The rhythm of the offense was thrown off balance once it reached the red zone, only scoring on four of six opportunities. In the red zone, Cornell only scored two touchdowns and settled for two other field goals. The inability to put seven points on the board as opposed to three served to be crucial in the team’s five point defeat.
“[When] you get down there, its all about making plays,” said head coach Jim Knowles ’87. “They made plays, we didn’t.”
The Tigers experienced more success in the red zone on Saturday, scoring on all four chances inside the 20-yard mark. Princeton scored three touchdowns and only settled for one field goal. It was an improvement for Princeton, who has struggled in that phase of the game recently, only scoring two touchdowns in five chances last weekend against Harvard.
“I think it was just guys playing their assignments,” said Princeton head coach Roger Hughes. “In the past, when we’ve been hurt in the red zone, it was kids tryng to make a play and going away from their coaching and their technique. And so we tried to make a big emphasis this week of ‘Trust the coaches, take the coaching, execute the coaching,’ and we did a better job of doing it today.”
“We were just converting in the red zone which coach has talked about all year … and we hadn’t done it a couple of games in a row,” said Tigers wide receiver Will Thanhesier. “I think this game, we stepped it up and made it happen.”
No one stepped up bigger than for the Tigers than defensive back Cart Kelley. Down 17-13, Ford led the team from its own 12 yard line all the way to the Princeton 13. But on a second-and-10, Ford under threw a pass to senior Horatio Blackman and Tigers’ defensive back Kelley ended up with the interception.
“When the game was on the line,” Hughes said. “[Kelley] came up with the biggest play of the game defensively. Clearly, it gave us a great emotional lift, [because] we were able to go down and score right after that.”
The Tigers would go on to score on the ensuing possession on a 20-yard toss to Will Thanheiser, giving the Red a deficit that it couldn’t make up before the clock expired.
Ultimately, however, the Tigers’ last stop in the red zone determined the outcome of the game. After a five-play, 58-yard touchdown scoring drive and a recovered onside kick, the Red put itself in position for a storied comeback at Shoellkopf Field. Set up at the Princeton 15-yard line with just under 10 seconds on the game clock, and trailing by five, a touchdown was the only option. Ford tried to catch the defense off guard with a fake spike.
The refs gave Cornell a penalty for the fake spike, which set the Red back to the 20-yard line. On the ensuing play, Ford missed senior wide receiver Jesse Baker, ending the game.
“[We] match [Baker] up one-on-one,” Knowles said, “and make it look like he is going to the back of the end zone and try and hit him in the front of the end zone. [It] has to be a perfect throw and we didn’t make it. That happens.”
Instead, it was the Princeton secondary, plagued by injury that came through and made the play when it had to.
“We had a number of injuries in the secondary that took its toll as the game went on, and I credit that with Cornell being a physical, tough team,” Hughes said.
In addition to losing some key DBs, Princeton has struggled at times in the pass protection, which Hughes attributed in part to a lack of experience.
“We’re young in the secondary, we’re still growing up there,” Hughes said. “If you noticed, we rotated a lot of people. We’re trying some younger kids in to get them some experience there, too, and fit them in the mix.”
But despite coming into the game ranking sixth of the eight Ivy teams in pass defense, it came down to the fact that the Tigers’ secondary made plays.
“We’re very pleased to get this win and we feel very fortunate to get it,” Hughes said.